Robert Wadsworth Stubbs
36-year-old Mill Owner
Mayor of Polk City
Murder Scene and Date
Stubbs Family Home
Polk City, Iowa
April 15, 1882
Cause of Death: Gunshot
By Nancy Bowers
Written May 2011
In the 19th century, Polk City, Iowa, was an important town along the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. It was a commercial rival of nearby Des Moines and very nearly named the state capitol.
Polk City was settled in the mid-1840s but not incorporated as a town until 1876. Six years later, its 36-year-old Mayor — Robert Wadsworth Stubbs — was murdered in a home invasion.
Stubbs was not only the town’s highest elected official but also co-owner of one its largest businesses, the flour milling firm Eggleston & Stubbs. He served as Treasurer of the school district and of the Odd Fellows Lodge as well.
Because of his business and civic responsibilities, Stubbs was in charge of a great deal of money. Because there was no bank in Polk City, Stubbs periodically took cash to a Des Moines bank.
Stubbs started taking his business receipts home in the summer of 1881 after thieves entered his flour milling firm, blew open a safe there, and took its contents.
Naturally, that quantity of money might attract the attention of robbers.
☛ Deadly Home Invasion ☚On the night of Friday, April 15, 1882, Robert Stubbs, his wife, and their four children had retired for the night.
Robert and Rachel Stubbs — who was seven months pregnant with the couple’s fifth child — slept on the second floor of their home in a room at the top of the stairs.
During the night, two men entered the house by a rear first-floor window, passed through the kitchen, dining room and sitting rooms, and started up the stairs in the hallway.
Rachel Stubbs heard them on the steps and woke Robert, who sat up in bed and called out to the intruders, asking what they wanted. A voice yelled profanities and commanded Stubbs:
“Lie down, or you will be shot.”
Stubbs shouted for the men to leave his house and got out of bed. Just then, one of the men opened the slide on a dark-lantern and shone a beam onto Stubbs. At that moment, a pistol was fired and a bullet struck Stubbs in the chest.
He staggered to the head of the stairs as the men ran out. He swayed and fell down the steps. By then, the intruders had run out the front door and mounted horses tied near the front gate. They disappeared into the night.
Although the motive for the intrusion seemed to be robbery, no money was taken. In fact, nearly $7,000 was later located in the house by authorities.
☛ Great Excitement, No Resolution ☚What newspapers termed “great excitement” followed the murder of Mayor Stubbs in and around Polk City.
Iowa Governor Buren Robinson Sherman offered a $500 reward, and the Polk City Odd Fellows put up another $500 for information leading to the killers.
Posses were formed and when several suspects were brought in for questioning, lynch mobs formed and some of the suspects were at the point of being hanged before reason prevailed in the agitated crowds.
At one point, W.A. Cline and Charles Wilcox were arrested for “complicity” in the murder. However, Cline was shot and killed by his brother-in-law while out on bail and Wilcox was tried and acquitted.
No one else was charged with the murder of Robert W. Stubbs.
☛ The Life of Robert W. Stubbs ☚Robert Wadsworth Stubbs was born July 21, 1845 in Belpre, Ohio, to Ruth Wadsworth and Jason Stubbs. He had four brothers — Silas, George H., Iddo Jason, and Benjamin M. — and five sisters: Mary E. Stubbs, Martha Ellen Stubbs Shetterly, Sarah Ann Stubbs Glenn, Dolly Marie Stubbs Davis, and Isadora Hannah Stubbs McKeehan.
In 1844, his parents moved the family to Warren County, Iowa, where his father was a miller and taught Robert the trade. The father and son worked together at a Des Moines River mill.
Robert Stubbs went back to Pennsylvania and worked in a saw mill and then as a machine man in an oil works.When he returned to the Des Moines area, he became an engineer at Eagle Mills and then co-owner of the Eggleston & Stubbs flour mill.
On June 24, 1870 in Polk City, he married Rachel Katherine Terrell and they had five children: Fredrick Jason Stubbs, Della B. Stubbs (Schuetz), Minnie Ruth Stubbs (Horner), and Silas Arthur Stubbs; they were expecting their sixth when Robert was murdered.
At the time of Stubbs’s death, the children ranged in ages from 6 to 11. Two months after his murder, Rachel gave birth to Robert E. Stubbs, who died at the age of five months.
About 1880, Rachel Stubbs married Robert’s widowed brother-in-law Lewis Reynolds Glenn, the father of six children; Rachel and Lewis had four children of their own.
Robert Stubbs is buried in the Polk City Cemetery. The impressive stone contains the symbol of a fallen tree, interlocked IOOF loops, and the words “We Shall Meet Again.”
The Jackson Sentinel wrote of the murdered man:
“Stubbs was a man of noble qualities and universally esteemed.”
Please note: Use of information in this article should credit Nancy Bowers as the author and Iowa Unsolved Murders: Historic Cases as the source.
- ☛ Annals Of Polk County, Iowa And City Of Des Moines, 1888.
- ☛ Cedar Rapids Times, May 4, 1882.
- ☛ “General News,” Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye, April 22, 1882.
- ☛ “Goings-on In Iowa,” Waterloo Courier, May 31, 1882.
- ☛ The History of Polk County, Iowa, Union Historical Company: Birdsall, Williams & Co., 1880.
- ☛ “Iowa Items,” Jackson Sentinel, April 27, 1882.
- ☛ Sumner Gazette, July 27, 1882.
- ☛ U.S. Census.
- ☛ Waterloo Courier, April 19, 1882.
- ☛ “West and South,” Iowa Liberal, April 26, 1882.